Friday, April 19, 2013

Hot Seat Friday - Lawrence Block Enlightens!!!!

I'm delighted and honored to have Lawrence Block in the Hot Seat today.  Lawrence is a very
naughty boy in a lot of his books and enlightens us on how that has come about.  His work may not be classed as romance, but definitely falls into WOW!

Some of your work is downright erotic and crosses boundaries at times into kinky.  Romance, whether erotic not, has certain taboos (of which some of your books at least dance around) that an author will be told to delete.  Have you ever had to argue with an editor to keep something in a story they thought too controversial?
It's important to note that much of my early work was in the field of Midcentury Erotica, novels for publishers like Nightstand and Midwood and Beacon under pen names like Sheldon Lord and Andrew Shaw. My contemporaries and I were essentially the creators of the genre in 1958-9, and our books were hugely successful for our publishers. (Though less so for us; Nightstand's publisher bought himself a Duesenberg around the same time that I bought a Nash Rambler.)

Our aim was to make the books as erotic as possible without getting the publisher sent to jail, and we mostly succeeded. We had to do this without using any of the words then deemed obscene, and none of my work in this genre contained the words shit or tits, for example, let alone anything stronger. Descriptions were imprecise, sometimes metaphorical—and yet the reader knew what was going, and evidently got off on it, because sales kept increasing.
For the longest time I wanted to forget those early books, and refused to sign them, etc. Well, time calms troubled waters, and who can stand up to the tag team of Ego and Avarice? I've republished many of those early works—Gigolo Johnny Wells and Campus Tramp, by Andrew Shaw, and Sheldon Lord's Candy, Carla, and A Strange Kind of Love—as eBooks, and Hard Case Crime has resuscitated a few others. They've even emerged as audiobooks, and who ever dreamed that would happen?

Midcentury erotica. It was a great training ground, because it was such a forgiving medium. As long as every chapter contained a sex scene, the publisher was happy.
But it had a curiously inhibiting effect in my other writing. I found myself becoming quite circumspect in writing about sexual incidents in my crime novels, work that I took more seriously and published under my own name.

 That was to change. A turning point came in the late 1960s. After having been several years away from the Midwood and Nightstand days, I wrote three erotic novels for Berkley under the name Jill Emerson. (It was a name I'd employed a few years earlier for two lesbian novels for Midwood.) By then there'd been a shift in mainstream literature, and writers as reputable as John Updike were going much farther than we had for Nightstand and Midwood.
The Berkley Jill Emersons came my way at a time when I found the whole premise of the novel artificial, and thus I experimented with form; Thirty and A Madwoman's Diary are purported diaries, while Threesome is a tour de force, with the three characters inspired to write a collaborative novel based upon their own troilistic relationship. The sexual content is far more realistic, in all senses of the word, than in my earlier work.

I next wrote an epistolary novel composed of letters to and from one Laurence Clarke, and gave it to friends to read, and they all thought iwas hysterically funny. I was moved to publish it not as a Berkley paperback but as a Bernard Geis hardcover, with the title Ronald Rabbit is a Dirty Old Man.
But none of this really answers your question, does it?
Let's fast-forward a few years. I can think of one occasion when an editor at William Morrow objected to an incident in one of the Matthew Scudder books. (I think it was the twelfth book in the series, A Long Line of Dead Men.) Matt and Elaine pay a social visit to a swing club; I call it Marilyn's Chamber, but it's the equivalent of Trapeze or Plato's Retreat. Their participation is largely as observers, although we learn from their conversation afterward that Elaine gets it on with another woman.

The editor couldn't believe that a nice girl like Elaine would do that, or that Matt and Elaine would go to a nasty joint like that in the first place. I said I figured I knew what my characters would or wouldn't do, and never even considered changing it.

Another editor was aghast when the preceding book, The Devil Knows You're Dead, saw Matt have an affair with a client. He and Elaine had a wonderful relationship, she protested, so why on earth would he cheat on her? "Men are like that," I told her. "Get used to it."

More recently, I found myself a series of short stories about a lovely and personable young woman giving to picking up guys, enjoying herself in bed with them, and getting even more pleasure out of killing them. The stories evolved into a novel as I discovered more and more about my heroine, and I decided to publish it with an open pen name: "by Lawrence Block writing as Jill Emerson." Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime was my editor and publisher, and it was a joy to work with him because he and I saw the book the same way.

Getting Off broke every taboo there every was, and was the most fun I've ever had writing. And my editor never suggested I tone anything down. In fact there's one scene in which Kit kills a man after having tied him up and, by means of a penile ligature, created what she thinks of as a Roach Motel—the blood can get in but it can't get out. Then, while the corpse is on his way to room temperature, she calls a girlfriend with whom she's been having a long-distance phone sex relationship.

"You know," Charles said, "while she's talking, well, I hesitate to suggest this, but the dead guy's still erect, so if she wanted—"

I never take suggestions, but how could I pass this up just because I'd failed to think of it myself? "Brilliant," I said, and rewrote the scene accordingly.
Getting Off is available in hardcover and trade paperback, I should mention, and as an eBook and audiobook as well. And just this month it struck me that many of the book's episodes, which started life as individual short stories, ought to be eVailable in that form; I've accordingly published "If You Can't Stand the Heat," "Rude Awakening," "You Can Call Me Lucky," and the novelette "Clean Slate," as eBooks.

Given how erotic some your work is, how much of your personal life do you incorporate in your writing?

Hmmm. Well, a good deal of my personal fantasy life, to be sure. When I started out in the late 1950s, all of my characters were vastly more experienced sexually than was I.
I wrote a whole series of sex-fact books in the 1970s as John Warren Wells, in the general form of collected case histories. Much of this was fabricated—fiction in the guise of non-fiction—but much of it was not, as the books led to correspondence which led to sections of subsequent books. And sometimes the correspondence led to meetings, and sometimes those meetings were, um, productive.
On the advice of counsel, I'm going to leave it at that...

John Warren Wells:
The Devil Knows You're Dead:

A Long Line of Dead Men:
Ronald Rabbit:
Madwoman's Diary:
A Strange Kind of Love:
Campus Tramp:
Gigolo Johnny Wells:
Getting Off:
You Can Call Me Lucky:
If You Can't Stand the Heat:
Rude Awakening:
Clean Slate:


Sloane Taylor said...

Great post! I've read many of Lawrence Block's novel and loved them all especially A Dance At The Slaughterhouse. I had no idea Mr. Block wrote under so many pseudonyms.

Lizzie said...

Neither did I Sloane. A man of many personalities!!!...LOL

Sam Cheever said...

Love the post! Thanks so much for sharing RMP!

Sara Daniel said...

Enlightens, indeed! Wow! Thanks Lawrence and Lizzie for the great interview.

Anne said...

I had no idea that Block wrote erotic books. I've read many of his Matthew Scudder books but don't remember the scene where he and Elaine visit the club....I'm seriously considering reading it now.